Avoid the Nightmares: How to Find the Best Car Repair Shop

By Alex Perdikis

You’re driving along and all of a sudden you hear it — a clunking noise coming from under the hood. What was it? Maybe it was just a one-time thing. Nope. There it goes again. It isn’t stopping. It’s getting worse. Something’s wrong with your car. Visions of conman mechanics and seedy repair shops suddenly flash through your brain.

What can you do to avoid the nightmare and find a reputable mechanic in a sea of unknowns?  Follow these steps to find the right shop for the job.

Who Do You Know?

The old standby still serves — ask your family and friends for recommendations. Find out who they dealt with and ask about their experience.

Word-of-mouth can be a bit deceiving, however. Recommendations can help you narrow choices down, but it pays to do a bit more research. And there’s always the possibility that family and friends will have nothing but recommendations about who not to go to.

Move the Hunt Online

It’s so much easier to find reputable professionals now than it was in the days before internet searches and reviews. You have a host of resources available to you now.

With so many resources available, it’s hard to know where to start. Follow these steps to get a workable list of nearby repair shops to investigate:

  • Google first: Start with a general search that includes your town, county, region or ZIP code and the words “auto repair” or “car repair.” Now you have a list of possibilities within your area.
  • Read reviews: If Google reviews are available, you’ll see them right away. Read them. Don’t limit yourself to Google reviews, however. Yelp is considered the standard when it comes to reviews. Again, use specific regional search words to find reviews for repair shops closest to you.
  • Explore Angie’s List: This is another great resource for finding reputable repair shops. Angie’s List screens reviews to ensure authenticity, so you’re not likely to find fake reviews.
  • Google a different way: Enter the name of the shop you’re considering with the word “review” after it in Google and see what comes up. You’ll see additional reviews that aren’t on the main sites. It’s a good idea to check them out.
  • Get help from insurance company: If you’re looking for repair and body shops after an accident check with your insurance company. Insurers typically rely on an approved network of direct repair membership programs.

About Those Reviews…

Mistakes happen. Misunderstandings occur. Repair shops are run by people after all. In other words, expect to read a negative review or two. But don’t discount a shop because of one negative review.

What’s more important than a negative review is how the shop owner handled it. Did the owner respond and try to mitigate the problem? You can learn a lot, not by a mistake that was made, but by what the shop owner or manager did to try to fix things.

Check ‘Em Out

By this time, you should have a shortlist of car repair shops to consider. Before you go traipsing off to the nearest location, make sure it meets a couple of additional conditions.

Is the shop certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), the Automotive Service Association (ASA) and/or the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-Car)? It should have one or more industry certifications to be considered.

Also check the Better Business Bureau online listing. You can see what types of complaints were reported and if they’ve been resolved.

Testing, Testing

If you don’t have a major repair to worry about, take the time to give the shop a tryout with a minor repair or routine maintenance. You’ll get a feel for a shop’s efficiency, competency and customer service.

“Also take into account operating hours and location. If a shop is only open when you’re at work, even if it’s nearby, it may not work for you.” — Alex Perdikis


The “Before You Leave Your Car” Checklist

You think you’ve found the perfect shop. Use the following checklist before you leave your car for repairs:

  1. Warranty. What kind of guarantee does the shop offer on its work? How long does the warranty last? What is your recourse if something goes wrong? Get it in writing.
  2. Parts. Does the shop only use original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts or aftermarket parts? OEM parts are more expensive, but this should be your call. Expect to pay more if you require OEM replacement parts.
  3. Estimate. Get a detailed estimate before any work is done. Look the estimate over carefully and ask about anything that’s unclear. If the estimate itself or parts of it are not detailed enough for you, ask that any clarifications be done in writing.
  4. Extra Work. Don’t leave your car unless you have a written guarantee that you will be notified and must approve of additional work not on the estimate before the shop can continue.

Stay in contact with the shop during the repair phase. Treat staff with respect and remember, most shop owners and managers are looking to build an ongoing relationship with you and your car. If you’ve done your research and stay on top of it, you can find a shop you can use with confidence.

Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.